License-Plate Cameras Are Part of the Domestic Surveillance You Didn't Know About

License-plate scannerVigilant SolutionsAs noted at Reason 24/7, license-plate scanners are back on the national radar at a moment when Americans are belatedly awakening to the surveillance state that has quietly developed around them. The Center for Independent Reporting discusses the shock a computer security consultant felt when he discovered that the single camera-equipped car in San Leandro, California, "had logged his car once a week on average, photographing his license plate and documenting the time and location." Even worse, police departments in northern California are sharing the data they collect. building a record of people's movements. But the problem isn't a local or regional one — cameras capable of capturing and processing license plate numbers are proliferating nationally, and we're well on the way to a unified system, partially planned and largely ad hoc, that monitors the comings and goings of motorists around the country.

From the Center for Independent Reporting:

When the city of San Leandro, Calif., purchased a license-plate reader for its police department in 2008, computer security consultant Michael Katz-Lacabe asked the city for a record of every time the scanners had photographed his car.

The results shocked him.

The paperback-size device, installed on the outside of police cars, can log thousands of license plates in an eight-hour patrol shift. Katz-Lacabe said it had photographed his two cars on 112 occasions, including one image from 2009 that shows him and his daughters stepping out of his Toyota Prius in their driveway. ...

A year ago, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center – one of dozens of law enforcement intelligence-sharing centers set up after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – signed a $340,000 agreement with the Silicon Valley firm Palantir to construct a database of license-plate records flowing in from police using the devices across 14 counties, documents and interviews show.

The extent of the center’s data collection has never been revealed. Neither has the involvement of Palantir, a Silicon Valley firm with extensive ties to the Pentagon and intelligence agencies. The CIA’s venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, has invested $2 million in the firm.

Yes, that's disturbing, but we've been on-track to this point for a while. Tiburon, California, photographs the license plate of every car that transits the two roads into town. Police there know when you're coming and going.

And forget San Leandro's single license plate camera, or even Tiburon's monitored chokepoints; the Washington Post reported in 2011 that Washington, D.C. had 250 such cameras deployed.

The DEA has been working by itself and with law-enforcement agencies throughout the southwestern United States to install fixed-location license plate scanners along interstate highways with the stated goal of picking up patterns of movement that may lead to drug smugglers. Of course, to detect pattens, you need to store data, which means building a database recording the passage of vehicles along those highways.

But law-enforcement agencies don't need to create such databases from scratch to record and share information on our movements if they don't want to. They can just plug into the system already established by Vigilant Solutions, which boasts that its National Vehicle Location Service "aggregates between 35-50 million LPR records every month, and is the largest LPR data sharing initiative in the United States."

The quiet but rapid growth in use of license-plate readers is due to the enthusiasm that law enforcement has for the technology. The International Association of Chiefs of Police even adopted a resolution that "strongly encourages the U.S. Congress to fully fund license plate reader and related digital photographing systems, including interrelated information sharing networks, for the northern and southern borders of the United States" and urges other countries to adopt compatible technology to ease data sharing.

That the CIA is investing in Palantir shows that interest in tracking our movements extends beyond law enforcement agencies and into the intelligence community. The surveillance state is better established than most people realize, and reaches far beyond our communications and Internet activities.

Here's me discussing license-plate cameras on RT, last year:

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...building a record of people's movements.

    Holy shit, is there any government entity that doesn't have a hardon for databases?

  • Loki||

    Databases give your average fed bureaucrap a collosal fucking chubby. It's what they think about when banging prostitutes.

  • John||

    Anyone else see the minute by minute chronology the government gave in Aaron Hernandez' arraignment yesterday? Part of that is because Hernandez is retarded and took his cell phone with him and didn't turn his home security system off. But the fact that a bunch of yokal police in suburban Boston were able to take someone who was under no suspeicion of a crime at the time and retroactively track his every move for an entire evening, gives one pause.

  • tarran||

    Hernandez was retarded in multiple ways:

    1) If you are going to kill someone and leave their corpse unhidden, at least try to make it look like a robbery.

    2) Don't leave the keys to your rental car in his pocket.

    3) Don't text your accomplices and order them to join you, and then text the victim proposing a meeting.

    4) If you are going to take your victim for a ride, maybe prevent him from texting who he's with... or alternately, don't murder him minutes after he sends the last text message saying who he's with...

    How much do you bet they will find his fingerprints on the casings they recovered at the scene?

  • John||

    I am thinking one of his accomplices is going to turn state's evidence pretty soon. Mass doesn't have the death penalty, but they do have life without parole. If I am the attorney for one of the flunkies, I am running to the cops to cut a deal for my client to finger the other two in return for some day getting out of prison.

    It amazes me how stupid he was. Beyond being idiotic enough to murder someone, if you are going to do it, you have your flunkies who are not connected to him do it while you are in Florida. You don't do it yourself leaving his body a mile from your house.

  • RBS||

    I know some things can't be explained, but what posses an borderline star athlete on one of the NFL's premier teams to do something so life alteringly retarded?

  • John||

    I don't know. The Chiefs guy who killed his g/f last year was a crime of passion. He found out his g/f was cheating and the child he thought was his was not his and he snapped. That is horrible. But I can at least understand it.

    Hernandez apparently killed this guy over some dumb ass issue at a bar. The guy told someone something or did something to piss him off. And he didn't act out of passion but waited two weeks, called his buddies and killed him. That to me is just insane. The only thing I can figure is that at some deep level, Hernandez hated himself and didn't think he deserved the success and felt like he deserved to be in prison and the whole thing was an elaborate way of self destruction.

    Even him being a sociopath and totally evil can't fully explain the stupidity of his actions.

  • tarran||

    John,

    I'm wondering if you'd watch Hernandez's arraignment and comment on it.

    I was watching his face as they went through the evidence against him, and from his expressions I concluded that this was a man that had broken rules all his life and rarely endured more than a wrist slap to date.

    The expression on his face when the DA describes the police finding the victim's wallet and valuables on his corpse and thus concluding that the crime wasn't a robbery was interesting; I couldn't tell what emotion he was feeling, but he was feeling something.

    I'm also interested in your opinion of why the other two murderers haven't been arrested and any other insights you might have.

  • John||

    Hernandez is a cold fish. It is easy to see someone as cold in that situation because you look for things that confirm your suspicions. But man did he look like a psycho in court. And yeah, he is a star football player who has been in trouble his whole life but never been held accountable for anything. When you live in a bubble like that, maybe you do think you can get away with murder.

    As far as the other two, the only reason I can think is they are not sure who they are. There is every bit as much of a case against them as there is against Hernandez. They are at best accomplices. And indeed, a critical part of the case against Hernandez is that he called in his out of state buddies to help him kill the guy.

    They should be arrested soon. I can't think of a reason why not.

  • tarran||

    They should be arrested soon. I can't think of a reason why not.

    I think they know who they are, the have Hernandez's text messages ordering them individually to come to his house, and they presumably can map those cell-phone numbers to people.

    I think they are residing in Connecticut, and so arresting them would require a getting the CT police to arrest them and an extradition hearing. I don't know how complex this is, but I figure it has implications for the investigation: the police would necessarily have to present a case in Connecticut to justify the extraditions.

  • John||

    Tarran,

    According the ESPN they arrested one of the two guys in Connecticut yesterday and he waived extradition.

  • RBS||

    Is contempt an emotion? That's what it looked like to me.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    I think the image he had of being a hotsy totsy Professional!!! Football!!! Player!!! had a lot to do with it. Figured he was better than almost everybody else, especially some punkass in a bar, and didn't have enough smarts to tone down the butthurt.

  • Jerryskids||

    You think that just because NFL players went to college that they are college educated? There's a good chance he did something so life alteringly retarded because he has a room-temperature IQ.

  • John||

    There's a good chance he did something so life alteringly retarded because he has a room-temperature IQ.

    If being stupid made one a murderer, we would all be dead. Sure he is a fucking rock. But that doesn't explain him killing the guy.

  • NoVAHockey||

    Paterno had a line once -- i'm paraphrasing -- when asked about the intelligence of one of his players ... ."what God had in mind for him was football"

  • John||

    I heard John Thompson say in response to being asked why he wasn't harder on coaches as a talk show host that "because I am not there every day and I don't know what he has to work with and I can only judge what players look like not what is between their ears.".

  • Loki||

    It amazes me how stupid he was.

    It doesn't amaze me. He's a fucking professional football player. They're not exactly known for their towering intellects.

  • John||

    Despite my experience in criminal law and my continued association with it via my criminal defense attorney friends, the stupidity of criminals still astounds me.

  • Loki||

    Think of it this way: if they were smart, or at least average intelligence, they probably would have either figured out a way to not get caught or just done something useful with their lives.

    Just out of curiousity have you ever been tempted to yell into a phone "STOP BREAKING THE LAW ASSHOLE!!!," ala Jim Carrey in Liar Liar, to one of those morons?

  • John||

    A few times. I did defense work in the Army. So my clients were a bit more intelligent than your average criminal. But they still were not bright. I had a couple of clients I was happy to see get pre-trial confinement because I knew at least they would be unable to do anything stupid in jail.

    Some people just have no concept that actions have consequences. They just don't get cause and effect.

  • Loki||

    I am thinking one of his accomplices is going to turn state's evidence pretty soon.

    Either that or one of his flunkies will be fingered as the trigger man and go to prison for him. I'm sure Hernandez will be able to bribe whoever he needs to ensure his homie has a nice comfortable life in prison on his behalf. He'll (Hernandez) claim that he had no idea his stooge was going to kill the guy and that the only thing he did wrong was try to cover for his friend.

    He'll go on to warn others about how you need to be more careful about who you associate with, blah blah blah. Years from now he'll win a superbowl and no one will remember that he was implicated in murdering someone as the sports media slobbers all over his cock. IOW, he'll be the next Ray Lewis.

  • John||

    I don't think so. Apparently the DA up there is some kind of wanna be Dem hack politician. He has ambitions. So, I am sure he wants Hernandez. Convicting the flunkies doesn't get you to the House. But convicting Hernandez might.

    And no matter how much money Hernandez has, no one is taking life without parole to save him. Russian mobsters who know their bosses will kill their families don't do that. We will never know who pulled the trigger. But rest assured, one of the three, mostly likely not Hernandez, will say someone did it.

  • RBS||

    A version of Loki's theory was being peddled by some moron on the radio this morning. Hernandez didn't pull the trigger, one of his flunkies did and all Hernandez meant to happen was to scare the guy or something.

  • John||

    Even if that were true, which of course it is not, I am sorry if you start pointing a gun at someone "to scare them" and the gun goes off, fuck you, you are guilty of murder in my mind. Maybe not first degree, but certainly second degree.

  • tarran||

    Maybe it was one of Dave W's guns, you know, the kind that empty themselves if you look at them funny?

  • KDN||

    What is one man's life when put against the Pats' 2013 season? The division's a joke and Brady's not getting any younger! They need Hernandez if their gonna get Touchdown Tommy his last ring! Where are your priorities?

  • ||

    and retroactively track his every move

    And it was also likely all done with warrants. Take that, NSA!

    Oh yeah, NSA is supposed to be pre-cog. Why didn't they stop this?

  • John||

    Shockingly, when you know what you are looking for, you can find it.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    If the cameras are mounted above traffic, a diffraction grate may work to render them useless and still make the plate readable from street level. I smell an opportunity.

  • Hugh Akston||

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    That just means there isn't a product out yet that works. Opportunity still exists.

  • Free Society||

    Europe has been dealing with this technology for a decade already. There are certainly products out there designed to foil traffic cameras.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Maybe the same tech used in auto-darkening welding helmets would work

  • derpules||

    Those are triggered by UV and wouldn't work for this application. I have seen some systems that use a camera-like flash "return flash" to blind the camera and obscure the plate number.

  • Free Society||

    And simpler low-tech solutions have had some success too. Certain types of hair-spray applied to the license plate, use the camera's own flash to flood the camera with glare.

  • Drake||

    A metal baseball bat and a mask would probably work great.

  • John||

    I don't trust them. Those guys are total liberal state lovers. I would be very surprised if they were willing to test any product that had a prayer of working.

  • Zeb||

    Are they? I though at least one of them was sort of libertarianish. Maybe I'm thinking of something else.

  • John||

    Maybe I am wrong. But regardless, would Discovery's attorneys let them tell people how to break the law?

  • Brandybuck||

    They did do an episode showing how trivially easy it was to crack fingerprint readers.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I don't think you're on the ground floor of this.

  • John||

    The new prank for dickhead teenagers to pull is to color print an exact copy of some teacher's license plate and stick it over your own and then go around town running red lights and speeding by speed cameras. The teacher gets all of the tickets.

    Having once been a dickhead teenager myself, I have to admit that is kind of brilliant. As a former dickhead teenager though, it infuriates me that those cameras exist and allow such abuse.

  • ||

    I can't remember where I came across it, and I'm having trouble finding the link again, but someone has created a headband mounted with LEDs that blur out your face on CCTV. I imagine something similar could be done for license plate readers.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    If the cameras can see in the infrared, you could blind them with always on IR LEDs. Simplest solutions are usually the best.

  • Zeb||

    And most sensors in surveillance cameras are pretty sensitive in near IR.

  • Free Society||

    I feel so safe. Come on guys, it's for our own good. Don't you want to be safe?

  • creech||

    Himmler, rotting in hell, must be green with envy knowing the tools that are employed today that would have made his Gestapo many more times as effective.

  • NoVAHockey||

    oh this issue. i helped defeat a neighborhood desire/goal to install these. the HOA wanted to work with the Fairfax County police to put them up in response to some recent break ins. one of the neighbors is a cop* and was leading the charge.

    as punishment i somehow got elected to the HOA.

    * turns out his in my hockey league and the same guy I put lit up on an open-ice check. man was he pissed. penalty, as it's a no-check league, but it was either lower the shoulder and check him or put myself in bad stop and get run over.

  • John||

    Good for you. Good too see even NOVITEs hate these things.

  • NoVAHockey||

    i recall HandR being very helpful. I was able to cite some scotus cases and stuff in the email that were flying around.

  • RBS||

    You're supposed to let the cop run over you, who the fuck do you think you are?

  • kinnath||

    At this point, the only viable solution is counter-surveillance.

  • Loki||

    And then you'll end up thrown in jail for violating cops rights to privacy and probably some bullshit "wiretapping" charges. IOW, rules and rights are for the King and the King's men, not for peasants. Know you place, peasant. And STOP RESISTING!!!!

  • Loki||

    The surveillance state is better established than most people realize, and reaches far beyond our communications and Internet activities.

    Part of the reason why I think things have gotten this far is that for years a lot of the surveillance state stuff was more or less rumors or ennuendo. You'd hear things like "I hear there's a secret at AT&T that the NSA can use to track everyone's phone calls" ot "there's secret government equipment installed on all the cell phone towers and no one's willing to say what it's for" or "I overheard a guy say he knows a guy who says they can tap into any phone in the country." Things that people could easily didmiss as parnoia and tin foil hattery. Even people who were inclined to belive that the government could track their movements and their communications in theory assumed the power wasn't being abused. IOW, an "It can't happen here" type of mindset.

  • Loki||

    Fucking character limit...

    Now, thanks to Edward Snowden and hopefully others like him that will come forward, it's no longer just rumors or hypothetical. I wish I was optimistic enough to hope that people will finally wake up, but I'm not. For one thing most people still lead very comfortable, seemingly free lives, and for another thing there's baby pics of Kim Kardashian's and Kanye West's unholy spawn to look at or some shit. The surveillance state and how it relates to freedom and individual rights: these are concepts that might require more than 5 seconds of thought and thinking about stuff is for fags.

    We are well and truly fucked.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

  • Brandybuck||

    For years we didn't believe this stuff because all the conspiratards out there polluting the water. This stuff is totally plausible, and was foreseen by anyone knowledgeable of the technology, unlike the wild and wacky conspiracy shit that gets claimed.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    with the stated goal of picking up patterns of movement that may lead to drug smugglers.

    Well, in that case; if it saves just one white teenage girl from a life of shame and degradation and animalistic sexual gratification, it's all worth it.

  • John||

    with the stated goal of picking up patterns of movement that may lead to drug smugglers.

    Or more likely a bunch of poor bastards who like to go home to Mexico and see their families every month. That has to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my life. Patterns my ass. How long will it take for the smugglers to start using different cars and driving different routs? As if they probably don't do that already.

  • Loki||

    How long will it take for the smugglers to start using different cars and driving different routs? As if they probably don't do that already.

    This. The smart smugglers probably already do. The only people they're going to "catch" are the poor bastards you described above and other innocents who just happen to fit the pattern. But they'll be mostly brown people from Mexico, so who gives a shit, right? Statist assholes are some of the most overtly racist peices of shit on the planet, if you judge them by their actions.

  • John||

    If you think about it, the smugglers are as worried about being robbed by other smugglers as they are about running into the cops. It seems a bit unlikely that a smuggler with even a little bit of sophistication would drive the same route with the same car in any kind of pattern. If he did, he would probably end up robbed and or dead pretty quickly.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, the only people they are going to catch that way are hapless mules getting payed a few hundred bucks to move someone else's stuff around.

  • Jerryskids||

    The thing about the databases isn't just the creepiness factor or the potential for current abuse, it's that the database is forever and you never know what they might use it for a year from now or ten years from now.

    All those people who shrug off the invasion of privacy because it's only used to catch criminals aren't concerned about the fact that it's not just about people who are breaking current laws but people who will be breaking future laws. If the average person is committing three felonies a day without realizing it, how many more will they be committing when there are twice as many laws? Can they not conceive of a time coming where they might feel compelled to commit civil disobedience against unacceptable laws?

    Once they have the collection system set up, they're going to have to find some way to use it as justification for having spent the time and money to set it up. It's too late then to squeal that you didn't know or didn't expect or didn't accept that they would be using the database in that way.

  • SugarFree||

    A dozen cops at each of these intersections could write all these license plates down and pass that on to thousands of cops in a big warehouse somewhere and they could match all the plates by hand and then work out the complex formulas for pattern matching and no one would be the wiser.

    Therefore, Tulpa is fine with this.

  • John||

    So you are telling me these systems are going to take away union jobs? I don't think Tulpa is going to like that.

  • SugarFree||

    No, no. Tulpa loves the technology of oppression. Sure he would prefer to have millions more police on the streets, but a robot that can do their work will do in a pinch.

  • mr simple||

    the Silicon Valley firm Palantir

    Really? A firm that handles video surveillance named itself after a magical device that allowed the Dark Lord to keeps tabs on the rest of the world? I guess if your main customers are governments and their agencies then that is the best type of advertisement of your services.

  • ChrisO||

    I remember when we used to laugh at the Eastern Bloc for submitting to this type of thing.

  • AlgerHiss||

    Funny how the very government people that record all of your movements get VERY upset when you turn the cameras on them.

    YouTube is loaded with violent LEOs going berserk when being filmed.

    Land of the free and home of the brave? What a freak'n laugh line that has become.

  • fried wylie||

    Driving on public roads is a privilege, not a right, therefore The State may impose any conditions it sees fit on that privilege.

    Suck it, Licensed Drivers!

  • Agammamon||

    Just another reason why license plates on cars should never have been required in the first place.

  • banteekwilles||

    If we think a bit different then I think such license-plate scanners or the cameras must be installed to such streets and areas that are heavily st-ricked by the thefts so that in future these recording would be a key to capture these horrible thefts.
    More

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